Lot Essay Prado manuscript: ‘Swear to obey and respect your teachers and superiors? To sweep out garrets, to spin tow (the coarsest part of hemp and flax), to play a musical instrument, to scream, to shriek, to fly, to cure meat, to anoint, to boil, to blow, to fry, each and every time one is so ordered? Then, young lady, you are a witch. Then let it be done well.’
‘Goya illustrates the perversion of education when used to instill evil and false beliefs. Supported by a satanic figure with a tail and cloven hooves, a novice with outsize ears appears enthralled by the chanting of two witches on high. With pincers – identified in one contemporary caption as tenazas, which were used to pull the flesh from criminals and by the heathens to torture Christians – they hold open a large book. Although their canonical hats might be identified with ecclesiastical miters, and their book with the Bible or possibly a Gospel, these ‘holy’ men are in fact emissaries of the Devil.’ 1
‘This is a difficult text to translate since almost every one of these verbs has a double meaning with the second meaning being one obscenity after another. Were these really Goya's thoughts? [Eleanor] Sayre's analysis of the three preparatory drawings for this work indicates that the Prado text explanation would appear to have nothing whatsoever to do with the true subject of this etching. The Prado text in fact represents a well thought out attempt to completely conceal the true meanings. These meanings would have made Goya a criminal in the eyes of the Inquisition. The Ayala text presents what would appear to be a truer description of this work. ‘There are priests who, themselves coming from nothing (no particularly distinguished background) force the very highest dignitaries to submit (to their orders), after having torn away with pincers the flesh (the real meaning) of the Holy Scriptures.’ In this print, Goya would appear to be telling us that, by ‘tearing away the flesh’ (that is, the ‘real meaning’) of the Holy Scriptures, using the same type of pincers used to hear away the flesh of those condemned by the Inquisition, there are clerics who through their words and actions, have hidden the true meanings of these scriptures. This would have been done by the clergy for the aggrandizement of their own power. In the drawings, the two clerics (both with donkey's ears!) hold the ‘holy books’ with long, powerful pincers. The clerics wear hats which could be those of bishops but which also appear exactly like those worn by those condemned by the Inquisition. If this was the recognized subject of this etching, it would have been sufficient for Goya himself to have been accused by that same Inquisition.’ 2
1. Stepanek, S.L., Tomlinson, J., Wilson-Bareau, J., Mena Marqués, M.B., et al, Goya: Order & Disorder, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2014, p. 250.
2. Johnson, R. S., Francisco Goya, Los Caprichos, R.S. Johnson Fine Art, Chicago, 1992, pp. 166-168.